by Hanin Nadja Othman
April 2, 2003
It’s not the first time for the Israeli military to arrest a member of the Palestinian Parliament. Last year, the Israelis arrested the parliamentarian Marwan Al-Barghouthi. The arrest of Hussam Khader is a new kind of reaction to the nomination of the new Palestinian Prime Minister in accordance to Israeli-American requests.
Hussam Khader is mostly known for his commitment to human rights, as well as his daring statements in the fight against corruption. His efforts in the struggle against the Israeli occupation, as well as his insistence on continuing this struggle, are well worth mentioning. Hussam Khader was the first to be forced out of his country because of his role as a leader during the first Intifada. He was exiled on January 13th, 1988.
Back then his deportation was the climax of a number of arrests, totaling 25. While exiled in Tunisia, he became a member of the Palestinian Exile-Parliament. He was among those to return to Palestine after the Oslo Agreements and was elected into the new Parliament. Of the Nablus candidates he obtained the second highest results. He was elected as an Independent, not from the Fatah Party’s list, whom he is also a member of. One of his initiatives was the founding of the “Association for the Defense of the Rights of Palestinian Refugees”, which gained him much support among the Palestinian People. His association insisted on the right to return for the Palestinian refugees to be part of any peace treaty with Israel. In addition to this he founded the “Jaffa Cultural Center” in Balata Refugee Camp by Nablus, which included numerous children and youths in its cultural and political activities.
Hussam Khader, who was born on Dec. 8th 1961 in the Palestinian village Kofr Romman, graduated from the Najah University in Nablus in Business Management and Political Sciences. He became a member of the Fatah party, to which Yassir Arafat belongs, too, in 1978. Before the 1st Intifada he was already arrested 23 times by the Israeli occupation forces, detained for 1½ years, as well as placed under house arrest for one year.
At the beginning of the 1st Intifada, he became one of the founders of several of the youth organisations (including in Balata Refugee Camp, of which he is a resident) that were to play a crucial part in the popular uprising. He was also involved in the Student Council of Najah University. On Jan. 1st 1988 he became the first activist to be deported from Palestine. After being wounded in a demonstration he was brought to South Lebanon by the Israeli occupation forces.
After being exiled Mr Khader started playing an ever more important role in politics. He represented the PLO on many occasions and as an ambassador of the Intifada came to meet several Presidents and speak in front of the Parliaments of many countries. He finally even became a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC).
After being allowed to return to Palestine on April 5th 1994 after the Oslo Agreement, Mr Khader cofounded the Supreme Council for Coordination of Fatah Activities together with Faisal al-Husseini and Marwan Barghouthi. The father of three children became chairman in the Ministry of Youth and Sport and held several speeches before the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Elections.
A refugee himself, Mr. Khader is an outspoken advocate for refugee rights and founder of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Palestinian Refugees, which insists on the right of return for Palestinian refugees to be included in any peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1996 he was elected into the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC, the Palestinian Parliament), as a representative of the Nablus district. He is a member of the Human Rights-, the Political-, and the Monitoring Boards of Parliament.
He has long been known as a fierce defender of the separation of powers, the basic rights concerning freedom of speech and freedom of press, the struggle against corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the strengthening of NGOs and other civilian institutions. In so doing, Mr. Khader established a reputation for challenging president Yassir Arafat for not being actively engaged in putting an end to corruption that, among other things, has hindered Palestinians’ efforts to establish accountable and democratic institutions in the Palestinian territories. On one occasion, Mr. Khader boldly demanded from Arafat to look deeper into the problem of corruption that surrounds senior leaders affiliated with the PA.
Mr. Khader has always maintained a strong connection with the masses, and continued his struggle against Israel’s brutal occupation, penetration and intervention in peoples daily life that, to say the least, continues to hinder the achievement of Palestinians’ ultimate national goals of establishing an independent state located alongside the state of Israel.
He has expressed that Palestinians in general need to pursue more peaceful methods when dealing with each other and must never resort to the use of violence or take the law into their own hands when dealing with corrupt leaders and/or confronting alleged collaborators. Mr. Khader believes that the Palestinians’ ability to confront Ariel Sharon’s policies and Israel’s occupation in general can only be maintained through unity, accountability and transparency and he wants to see the relationship between the Palestinian people and their leadership redefined.
His arrest on March 17th 2003 aroused protests from around the world, including from several members of other Parliaments.
Hussam Khader was arrested in the early hours of March 17th 2003 in his apartment in the Balata Refugee Camp. We were able to contact his sister by phone, who described the arrest as follows:
At two in the morning all the neighboring houses and the whole area were surrounded by the Israeli army. At 2.45 a.m. they blew up the front door without a warning and immediately opened fire. There are four children living in the house, aged eleven, eight and five years old as well as nine months old. The soldiers ordered all the inhabitants out of the house. We said: ‘There are children in here. How are we supposed to leave while you keep shooting?’
Ghassan, my other brother, was in his apartment on the third floor. His daughter is nine months old. They shouted at him while he tried to emphasize that we are only civilians. He asked if they could be a little more patient, because everything was filled with smoke. They had been shooting and the cloud of dust made it impossible for him to come down the staircase with his baby. The soldiers kept shouting at him, they approached him and threatened him with their guns. They made him take his clothes off.
At 3.45 a.m. we all went over to the neighbors because we couldn’t well have remained standing on the street all the time with the kids. We had to gather in a single room with our neighbors, we weren’t allowed to switch on the lights, we weren’t even allowed to get up to drink something or give our thirsty children water. Hussam entered, called for our mother and told her that they meant to arrest him. We got up, together with his son and two daughters to say goodbye to him. A soldier then violently pulled his shoulder and hit him on the head. We ignored him, we hugged my brother and said goodbye.
Naturally the house was damaged. They fired at the closets, which of course were closed, without ever bothering to look inside. It was the same thing on all three floors. The bathrooms, the room of Hussam’s children, their toys and clothes – everything is broken or stained by gunpowder and soot. Much was damaged by the fire and the flying shrapnel.
They asked him: ‘Are you Hussam Khader?’ He said yes. ‘Where do you work?’ He said: ‘In Parliament.’ They nodded at each other, yes, that’s the one we’re looking for. Hussam asked: ‘You’re looking for me? You could have rung the bell, like ordinary people.’ They said: ‘Come on, come on. There you’ll be told everything.’ They didn’t give us any reasons. Just that they wanted to arrest Hussam Khader.
It will be very hard, even for his lawyer or the Red Cross to find out anything about his whereabouts or their plans concerning him, in the first 72 hours after his arrest.
Postscript: On March 24th 2003, the lawyer Raed Mahamid was allowed to meet his client Hussam Khader for one hour. Israel is accusing Hussam of financing radical organisations with money from Iran. They accuse him on the grounds that the Jaffa Cultural Center, which was founded by him in the Balata Refugee Camp, distributes money on Islamic holidays among the camp’s poorest families, without sparing out the relatives of radicals. During the visit he told his lawyer the following:
Since his arrest on March 17th he was deprived of sleep and questioned repeatedly. While he is in his 2 square meters big cell, the guards disturb him frequently as to keep him from resting and sleeping. He is allowed only 20 minutes daily to eat. Whenever he is taken away for questioning, they tie him to a chair by his arms and legs so he can’t move and he is so forced to remain in the same position throughout the interview. They insult him all the time, and threaten him, that something might happen to his family if he doesn’t confess. But Hussam refuses to talk, on the grounds that his arrest is illegal. Israel committed itself to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, saying that it would not arrest politicians under the protection of immunity. As a parliamentarian, Hussam has immunity. Therefore he is threatening to go on hunger strike. This would be of a high risk to him, since he is suffering from a heart irregularity since last year. Because of this, he has already received medication from an Israeli military doctor, who examined him.
His lawyer, Raed Mahamid, said that although Hussam was very exhausted he seemed to be of high morale. In the last Intifada, Hussam had already been arrested several times and had even been deported from Palestine.
Hanin Nadja Othman is of Palestinian-German descent, and is currently studying Latin American Sciences at the University of Cologne. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org